Israeli-Palestinian paradoxes under the shadow of the virus

By Claude Salhani

Despite the imminent threat to the security and well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians — and indeed the safety of the planet — they still found the time and energy to exchange rocks and gunfire in the occupied territories.

In response to the spread of the coronavirus most countries went on an unprecedented lockdown with governments ordering millions of their citizens to remain indoors.

Warmongers on both sides of the Middle East dispute will find a bizarre sort of comfort in a report from the West Bank of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded with gunfire, assuring that the never-ending cycle of violence between the two sides continues despite the far greater threat to people in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In short, the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the extremist Zionist groups can rest assured that the 72-year conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is guaranteed to continue for years.

The coronavirus making its way around the globe does not differentiate between one religion and another or one nationality and another. It’s at times like these when the world needs to put aside its differences and look at what unites us.

Discouraging as the situation may seem, with the coronavirus pandemic claiming more lives in two weeks and affecting more people than all terrorist acts in the past 10 years, scientists are working to find a vaccine and an antidote to the virus and we can remain confident that a solution will eventually be found.

However, regarding the Middle East conflict, political scientists will grapple with the Israeli-Palestinian problem for decades.

Palestinian authorities reported 66 cases of coronavirus infection, though the actual numbers will probably never be known. Israel reported 3,400 cases of coronavirus infection.

Globally, the virus has affected more than 300,000 people and killed more than 18,000. Back in the occupied territories, Palestinians throw rocks at Israelis who retaliate with gunfire.

In what may be a paradox, as Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers in one part of the territory, Palestinian workers were given temporary shelter by Israelis a few kilometres away.

The closure of Israel’s borders with the Palestinian territories because of the coronavirus outbreak forced Israel’s building industry to seek temporary housing for many of its nearly 70,000 Palestinian day labourers.

Usually, some 100,000 workers travel across the border twice a day. Some have security clearance from Israeli authorities allowing them to cross more quickly than the average worker, who can spend more than 3 hours at the border checkpoint. The prized possession for any Palestinian day labourer is an Israeli work permit because workers earn more for equivalent work in Israel than in Palestinian cities.

Had the Israelis been unable to provide the housing for the Palestinians, it could have caused a construction shutdown. Ironically, many Palestinian workers are building Israeli homes in areas the Palestinians claim are illegal settlements.

“Palestinian workers are the (backbone) of Israeli construction. Without them, we don’t work. The industry would stop,” Shay Pauzner, an official with the Israeli Builders’ Association, told Reuters.

Reuters reported that Pauzner said his union of approximately 4,000 construction firms coordinated with the Israel Hotel Association to find rooms for 12,000 Palestinians in some 40 hotels across the country after the border closure was announced. They found vacant apartments for another 28,000, some of the flats still in the final stages of being built.

Don’t get your hopes up, though. Despite this rare example of cooperation between the two sides, Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land are not about to get together to sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire any time soon.

There remains a grain of hope that, eventually, a “vaccine” to cure the animosity in the region will be found.

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